Wilton Rasmusson never made it past the eighth grade, but when he turned 100 years old, the Norwegian ambassador flew all the way to Fridley to personally thank him for fighting the Nazis.
The World War II veteran was a spy who served as a paratrooper and demolition expert for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor of the CIA. When he returned to Minnesota after the war, he declined CIA job offers in favor of a quiet life tending immaculate rose gardens and raising a family with Doris Dinnetz, who was living with his sister in Minneapolis and whom he met on his first day back home. They married in 1946.
Rasmusson, 102, formerly of New Brighton, died of natural causes on Aug. 6 at the Landmark of Fridley retirement community. A joint service for him and his wife, Doris, who died of COVID-19 last year at the age of 94, will be held Oct. 7. Their only grandchild, Amber Rasmusson, said she was grateful her grandfather lived such a long life. She said she remembers how her grandmother would coax him to tell her what he had done during the war.
"He's like, 'It's not really that big of a deal,' " said Amber, of New Brighton. "And then as I got older and he started talking about it more, and we started doing more research, I'm like, 'This is freaking incredible.' [But] some of it was traumatic and he didn't want to talk about it."
Rasmusson grew up with 11 siblings in Sunburg, Minn., a predominantly Norwegian community north of Willmar. Fluent in Norwegian, he served under the OSS Norwegian Operational Unit, NORSO II, during his 3½ years overseas. He jumped out of planes 13 times, blowing up bridges and roads to stop the German army.
When Ambassador Kåre R. Aas visited Rasmusson at his Fridley retirement home in December 2019 to present him with two medals, he said Rasmusson and fellow Allied soldiers "made freedom possible."
While on the front lines during the war, Rasmusson kept a cyanide pill in his pocket to swallow in case he was ever captured. But it was a bike collision with another cyclist in England that put him in a coma for 10 days and caused him to miss the D-Day invasion.
"I never did make it to that dance," he told the Star Tribune in 2019. "Instead of going to France, I went to the hospital."
For nearly 40 years, Rasmusson worked for the Chicago & North Western railroad. He enjoyed a nice glass of brandy — the liquor that he recalled was parachuted down to troops celebrating the end of the war — and listening to Lawrence Welk.
Amber Rasmusson described her grandfather as humble, hardworking and "always a charmer." She said her childhood was spent visiting the Como Zoo and Hansen Park in New Brighton with her doting grandparents. Later in life, they often took cruises to the Caribbean. Everywhere they went, she said, her grandfather befriended someone.
Amber said she will miss his thick Norwegian accent, especially when hearing him call over the phone to announce "It's Grandpa calling!" — as if she could ever mistake his voice.
"I'll miss being able to introduce him to people and hear him retell stories again that I've heard countless times before," she said. "Every time he told a story, it always felt like I was hearing it again for the first time."
Besides his granddaughter, Rasmusson is survived by his son, Greg, of Minneapolis, and brother, Walter, of Fort Collins, Colo. The joint service for Wilton and Doris Rasmusson will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 7 at the Northeast Washburn-McReavy Chapel, 2901 NE. Johnson St., Minneapolis.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751